Catherine Duchemin

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Entry by Sandrine Lely, 2004

Catherine Duchemin was born on Nov. 12, 1630, daughter of the master sculptor Jacques Duchemin and of Elisabeth Hubault, a couple then residing on the rue Saint-Martin in the Parisian parish of Saint-Jacques de la Boucherie. She certainly received her first drawing lessons in her father's studio, but her painting teacher is never named. No contemporary documents support the theory put forward by Auguste Jal in 1867 that she received lessons in the studio of Nicolas Baudesson. It seems likely that Jal was keen to establish a link between Catherine and her future husband, the sculptor François Girardon (1628-1715), who was for a time apprenticed to Nicolas's brother Antoine. In fact, the Duchemins and Girardons were probably in contact because they were neighbors and shared the same trade. When Catherine and François were married on Oct. 23, 1657, their families were both living on rue Cléry in the parish of Saint-Eustache. François Girardon had recently been elected to the Academy and was embarking on a brilliant career. In 1658 he was charged with redecorating the château of Vaux-le-Vicomte, and he then moved on to work on the château at Versailles. In the meantime, Catherine either started or continued her career as a flower painter. On April 14, 1663, after an examination of her work, she was given the honor of being accepted as a member of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, "following the King's intention to confer his grace on all those who excel in the arts of Painting and Sculpture, and on all those judged worthy of it, with no distinction of sex". Catherine's reception piece was a large-scale flower painting measuring four by three feet (approximately 1.30 m x 97 cm). She was the first woman to be given this honor in France. Her talent must have been outstanding, yet other considerations -such as the decree promulgated in February 1663 which obliged "all those who are capable of being of service to His Majesty" to apply for admission to the Academy- may also have led her to submit her work. Even so, Catherine's admission -not simply the first at the Academy of Painting and Sculpture, but also the first in any official academy in France- was highly significant, and it set an important precedent for women.

Despite this official recognition of her talent by her peers, we find no further mention of Catherine until her death in her lodging in the Louvre, on Sept. 21, 1698. In 1700, Florent Le Comte claimed that she had stopped painting to look after her household and her children. His affirmation is credible since between 1658 and 1673 she gave birth to no fewer than ten children. In addition, the ever-growing importance of François Girardon on royal work sites and at the Academy, of which he became director in 1674, no doubt put pressure on the couple to assume a life style in keeping with their new social rank; and this meant that Catherine had to give up all remunerated work.

Although her career was short-lived, Catherine Duchemin was one of the very few seventeenth-century women artists to earn universal praise, both in books on famous women and in eighteenth-century art dictionaries -no doubt because she was the first woman accepted into the Academy. As another sign of her fame, two portraits painted of her during her lifetime (one a miniature, the other life-size) are extant. The latter, formerly attributed to Sébastien Bourdon, shows her sitting at her easel with palette and brushes in hand, in the act of painting poppies in a vase set by her side. Tradition holds that she painted the vase and flowers in the portrait herself; and while there is no actual proof of this, it may well be true. If so, it constitutes the only surviving trace of her art. Catherine is regularly cited by art historians from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, particularly in books on still-life painting.

(translated by Susan Pickford)


- v. 1663 : Un panier de fleurs posé sur un piédestal. 4 pieds sur 3 (1,30 x 0,97 m.). Disparu entre 1775 et la Révolution.

Selected bibliography

- Faré, Michel. Le Grand siècle de la nature morte en France: le XVIIe siècle. Fribourg, Office du Livre, 1974, p.192-196
- Jal, Auguste. Dictionnaire critique de biographie et d'histoire. Paris, 1867, p.641-643.
- Le Brun-Dalbanne, Eugène. Le Portrait de Catherine Duchemin femme de François Girardon. Troyes, Dufour-Bouquot, 1876.
- Montaiglon, Anatole de. Procès-verbaux de l'Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture... Paris, Baur, 1875, t.1, p.222-223, 230.
- Nouvelles Archives de l'Art français. 1892, p.162.

Selected bibliography of images

- Anonyme. Catherine Duchemin en buste (miniature sur vélin, 57 x 49 mm). Troyes, Musée des Beaux-Arts -- Le Brun-Dalbanne (voir supra).
- Anonyme (autrefois attribué à Sébastien Bourdon). Catherine Duchemin devant son chevalet (huile sur toile, 1,30 x 0,96 m). Coll. part. -- Beaux-Arts, 1er juillet 1926, p.197.


- «Mesdemoiselles Boulogne & Madame Girardon y tiendront un rang considérable, & on ne distinguera point à l'avenir le sexe de leurs Tableaux, quand ils se rencontreront auprés de ceux des plus habiles Maîtres qui ont exercé les mêmes talens» (Jean Fermel'huis, Éloge funèbre de Madame Le Hay, connue sous le nom de Mademoiselle Chéron, Paris, François Fournier, 1712, p.40).
- «Catherine Du Chemin, à la suite de son mariage, a bien fait voir qu'elle n'avait plus rien à désirer, car elle a tenu un temps encore ses pinceaux; puis, après avoir été reçue académicienne, c'est-à-dire lorsqu'elle fut arrivée au plus grand honneur auquel une femme pût prétendre, elle s'est consacrée sans partage à son mari et à ses enfants, plus soucieux de leur bien-être et de leur sage direction que de ses succès d'artiste» (E. Le Brun-Dalbanne, Le Portrait de Catherine Duchemin... voir supra «choix bibliographique», p.11).
- «Aucune oeuvre de cette artiste ne nous est parvenue; il semble toutefois que Le Brun n'eût pas compromis l'Académie en y introduisant une femme qui n'eût pas justifié par un talent exceptionnel un hommage si éclatant; et le procès-verbal de la séance du 14 avril 1663 n'eût pas, sans de bonnes raisons, associé "toute la compagnie, touchée de l'estime du dit ouvrage et cognoissant le mérite de cette damoiselle", à cette initiative singulière» (Guillaume Janneau, La peinture française au XVIIe siècle, Genève, Pierre Cailler, 1965, p.168).

Catherine Duchemin
Spouses François Girardon
Also known as Madame Girardon
Birth date 1630
Death 1698
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
Dictionnaire Louis-Abel Abbé de Fontenai
Dictionnaire Florent Le Comte
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